Where Does the Power Go?

training for Life
Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
November 2001 Issue

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In tai chi chuan we have what are called the Classics. These are writings, created through the ages, by respected tai chi masters of all tai chi styles. They describe principles that apply to all styles of the art.

One of these principles, described in the Classics, involves the theory of energy and power (jing in Chinese). It is written that, "Jing starts in the feet; moves with the legs; is directed by the waist into the arms and out through the hands." But there the description stops. There's no mention of how jing or power is emitted by the hands. Does it just drift out as if it were a magical entity and gather force as it cruises toward its target? Of course not; your power must be launched from your hands to have any effect on an opponent.

As described by the Tai Chi Classics, power starts in the feet by having both feet rooted, or firmly connected to the ground. You should not have the back foot raised off the ground in any manner. Instead, as you push forward into the forward foot, you also push back into the back foot, causing it to grip the ground as if it were attached to roots, like a tree.

Power moves forward or backward as your legs move your body. This way your entire body becomes the pushing force behind your tai chi technique, not just your arms and shoulders. This is the difference between those who only move their arms and the correct movement of the body connected to the arms.

The waist directs power. Rather than just moving an arm in the direction you want to strike or push, you turn your waist and your arms follow. By doing this you keep the natural alignment of the shoulder joint to the torso, multiplying your strength and force.

From the waist, your tai chi jing moves into your arms, which are held extended from the body in a natural pushing, grabbing or striking position. As the body and waist move, the arms react as if they were attached and unable to move separately from the body movement. This is referred to in tai chi as the waist carries the arms.

Power moves into the arms to be expressed by the hands. Herein lies one of the secrets to successful tai chi jing. The wrists move to send power or force out of the tai chi practitioner's body and into the target. If done at fighting speed it becomes fa jing (explosive force). When done slowly in a tai chi form it appears as a gradual twisting or bending motion of the wrist. For instance, a strike with an open palm is done at fighting speed by quickly snapping the wrist back, then immediately relaxing both wrist and hand. This kind of fa jing motion characterizes the penetrating power of tai chi strikes into sensitive pressure points. The actual striking area it is the outer third of the palm and palm heel, created by turning the hand inward about 45 degrees. The snapping action of the wrist joint allows jing energy to be expelled from the tai chi, stylist's hand. 

Even joint locking or manipulation techniques require wrist action to increase the strength and force of the technique. While not done with the explosive force of fa jing, jointlocks still rely on the angle of attack made possible by moving the wrist downward or outward. For instance, Yang tai chi's roll back technique gets its power from the downward pressing action of the tai chi stylist's right wrist.

Every tai chi technique expresses power into the target through these sometimes-subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle wrist actions. It is the explanation of what happens to tai chi jing when it is time to leave the tai chi practitioner's body and enter the opponent. Without these important wrist movements your tai chi techniques are no stronger than a breath of wind against someone's body.

Doc-Fai Wong writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung-Fu.


Doc-Fai Wong writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung-Fu.

November 2001 Inside Kung-Fu